Gophers storm Mickey Mouse club

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. During spring break at Walt Disney World in Florida, Mickey Mouse took a back seat to Goldy Gopher — for a few hours anyway.
While thousands of Gophers fans filled the Alamodome in San Antonio to watch the team defeat Clemson and UCLA in the Midwest Regional, dozens of devotees took time-outs from their expensive vacations and took over the ESPN Club in Disney World to loudly show their support.
Other patrons of the sports bar, who had little stake in the game, watched as Gopher fans reacted to every ebb and flow of the games. Longtime fans, as well as young children wearing Bobby Jackson and Sam Jacobson jerseys, leapt from their seats time and again during the Gophers’ double-overtime win against Clemson.
“They were loud and obnoxious,” said club manager Kathryn Flanagan, but “there was good team spirit, and we enjoyed it.”
During the first half of the Clemson game, the Gophers backers were jubilant, smiling and cheering as the team built a commanding double-digit lead. But after the Tigers roared back in the second half and took a six-point lead in the first overtime, the joy turned to quiet dread. A few Clemson fans surfaced and took advantage of the silence to cheer on their team.
But the Tigers fans were quieted when the Gophers clawed back, and Jackson knotted the score with a full-court drive to the hoop, paving the way for a second overtime period and eventual victory. As the game ended, Minnesota fans clapped in unison, sang the Minnesota Rouser and spelled out M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A in a vocal celebration as they filed out of the bar.
“It’s the biggest bandwagon northwest of Cleveland. We didn’t see a Gopher fan in here all year, didn’t see a Viking fan all year,” said Keith Abbott, a technician at the club. “(The Gophers) get this far in the tournament, they fill up half the restaurant. But they’re a great crowd, a fun crowd.”
An even larger contingent of Gophers fans filled the club two days later for the UCLA game. Between 40 and 50 fans gathered in hopes of watching the school gain its first-ever Final Four berth. But this time Gophers fans were forced to keep their enthusiasm in check until well into the second half.
During the first half, the fans sported grim looks as the Bruins controlled the game with their athleticism. During the eight lead changes and five ties, Minnesota fans clapped tersely only when the Gophers scored timely baskets to keep the Bruins from pulling away.
After the Bruins built a 5-point halftime lead, an ESPN Club employee walked through the crowd with a microphone, asking Gophers fans about the team, Clem Haskins and the chances they would come back in the second half. The employee told the crowd, “I think UCLA’s going to win this game, but the Gophers have a great team.”
One fan said about Sam Jacobson: “When he gets hot, he’s unstoppable.”
In the second half, the whole team got hot, quickly erasing a 10-point Bruin lead with tough defense and solid play around the basket. The bar became frenzied as fans realized the team was really heading to Indianapolis.
As the cheering reached a fever pitch, one UCLA fan turned to the person next to him and said, “I guess I’m outnumbered here today.”
While the fans inside the bar could hardly contain their excitement over the Gopher victories, other vacationing members of the Gopher bandwagon were left to celebrate outside the club. Minnesotan Carolyn Van Deusen said she and her family tried to join their fellow fans in the bar, but found the place filled to capacity both nights.
During their week in Florida, however, Van Deusen and her family experienced the Gopher phenomenon throughout the parks of the world’s most popular tourist attraction.
Van Deusen’s sister-in-law works in public relations for the University and gave the family Gopher t-shirts to wear while in Florida. She said people stopped them at the various parks to shout “Go Gophers” or tell them the Gophers would soon face defeat.
“People stopped my husband and told him we’d get our butts kicked” by Kentucky, Van Deusen said.
Kentucky was the only team to have nearly as many fans as the Gophers at the Disney club during their games, Abbott said. “But the Kentucky fans drank more bourbon,” he joked.
As the tournament has progressed, Minnesota fans have learned what it’s like to be an underestimated NCAA contender. “I think everybody was pretty surprised we’re (in the Final Four),” Van Deusen said.
Despite the lack of national respect the team received prior to beating UCLA, the small army of Gophers fans never doubted their team’s chances. The 1,500 miles between the Magic Kingdom and Williams Arena disappeared once the games started and the Gopher faithful came together.
It’s a small world, after all.

Staff Reporters Tracy Ellingson, Michelle Kibiger, Brett Knapp and Joel Sawyer contributed to this article.